Last weekend I made my first trip (one of many, I hope) to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for an afternoon with my mom. I’ve wanted to visit the Met since before I can remember, and once I was there it was very hard to leave. Being surrounded by so much artwork from all over the world, and from such far reaches of history, gives me a thrill. There’s a sense of being suddenly connected to cultures and artistic ideas that we otherwise would’ve never had any insight into, and just being open to that can elevate one’s own creativity and expand one’s imagination. A lot of people think art is just a luxury, or that it’s exclusive, but I really think its basic importance is that it heightens our ability to feel; it gives us a chance to experience our own emotional reactions to ideas. I think art teaches compassion, and in a time when compassion is so often overlooked how is that not something worth preserving, right?

Charles James: Beyond Fashion | The Daughters of Catulle Mendès (Auguste Renoir, 1888)

Our first stop was the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit in the newly revamped Costume Institute. Being a special exhibition at the museum, my understanding was that photography wasn’t allowed (though let me tell you, I was one of only a few people who heeded that rule), but you can see a glimpse of it on the Met’s website. I especially love the second video on this page which shows some of the fascinating ways technology was incorporated into the exhibit. While some of James’s designs look very straightforward and (dare I say it) typical for the 1950s, the exhibit goes beyond what we see (literally, using x-rays and simulated images) to connect the viewer with James’s unique genius. His eye for structure and his imaginative approach to cutting was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the dresses, suits, and coats beside a computer screen that then deconstructed the garments to show exactly how they were made (and making it look super easy in the process). There’s also a small gallery with samples of James’s hats, from his early days as a milliner, as well as different bits of his history. (One thing I loved was his handwritten list of people he wished he had dressed, among them “Miss Audrey Hepburn, a wisp of steel” and “Mr. Mick Jagger, sexy bastard”.) The exhibit closes on August 10 so if you’re in the Manhattan area I can’t recommend it enough!

Although photography in the Charles James exhibit wasn’t allowed, still photos are welcome in the galleries containing the permanent collection, so when we later traipsed over to see my beloved Impressionists I was in full-on shutterbug mode. I took nearly 100 pictures that day!

Water Lilies (Claude Monet, 1919)

The Boulevard Montmarte on a Winter Morning (Camille Pissarro, 1897)

Young Woman Seated on a Sofa (Berthe Morisot, 1879)

Madame Manet (Édouard Manet, 1880)

The Dance Class (Edgar Degas, 1874)

View of Marly-le-Roi from Coeur-Volant (Alfred Sisley, 1876)

The Organ Rehearsal (Henry Lerolle, 1885)

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (Vincent van Gogh, 1887)

Monet was my first favorite artist, and I’ve seen some of his painting in-person before, but the Met’s collection of 19th century Europe’s masters is more impressive than I had anticipated. I loved seeing some of Berthe Morisot’s work (one of the few women who exhibited with the famed Impressionists in Paris – girl power!), as well as the incredible range of work they have from Degas. (Edgar appears in a few collective galleries, but then he has a few rooms all to himself as well.) While there were the classic Degas dancers, the Met also has on view some of his pastel nudes (two of my favorites being Woman with a Towel and Woman Combing Her Hair) which I just find to be so unflinchingly real and beautiful at the same time (it’s nice to think, if life imitates art, that the unflinchingly real can be beautiful at the same time!). The Met also has some of his sculptures, which I was really excited to see, especially this one. There was also van Gogh’s infamous self-portrait, and a gallery full of Camille Pissarro, who I really think captures the essence of Impressionism beautiful.

Do I sound like I have any idea what I’m talking about? I really don’t. I just like pretty pictures. (Also, if you’re a fan of Degas or the Impressionists at large I can’t recommend this novel enough!)

Hello out there to Casee’s lovely readers! My name is Stephanie Shar and I’m so honored to be here today. I blog over at The Loudmouth Lifestyle and Baby Loudmouth about self-help, self-love, inspiration and motivation. I hope you get a little taste of that from this post.

Back in 2011, I wrote, “I want to positively influence women to live loudly. I have an idea in my head of what that means and I hope to exude that personality every day. But what, exactly, does ‘loud’ mean? It’s not about voice volume (though if you’ve met me in person, you’ll know that’s also one of my traits). Living loudly means taking charge of your life, focusing on the positive, filling every day with things you’re passionate about and cherishing every moment. It means giving 110% in everything you do whether it be work, relationships or projects. It means living in the present — not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”

This movement has been three years in the making, and now it’s finally coming to fruition starting with my first e-book, 7 Steps to Living Loudly: Discover Who You Are, Decide What You Need and Create the Life You Want. After a decade of fighting my own self-doubt, depression and anxiety, I want to show you how to squash your fears and follow your dreams! Anything is possible — you just have to decide to take the steps to get there. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Today, I’m giving away a copy of my e-book to one lucky reader! All you need to do is fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. We’ll announce the winner next week and you’ll receive the PDF straight away. Thank you for reading, and whatever you do, don’t give up on what you’re striving for! Feel free to come say hi anytime!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to Stephanie for sharing her work! The giveaway is open to everyone; the PDF is compatible with Kindle and Nook, or if you don’t have an e-reader you can read it right on your PC. You could also print it out (25 pages) and clip it in a binder to make your own print workbook!

P.S. You can read my review of the e-book today on Literary Inklings.

Visit Stephanie: The Loudmouth Lifestyle | Baby Loudmouth | | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been making efforts towards living a more cruelty-free life, but I haven’t given much detail on it. That was partly because it’s been a slow and quite complex process as I’ve tried to take in all the information that’s out there. But finally I want to share a few things I’ve learned. (Keep in mind that I’m not an expert – check the blog list at the bottom for great cruelty-free/vegan/natural gurus.)

It’s not one big leap; it’s a thousand baby steps.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’m constantly faced with all-or-nothing extremes when it comes to things like cruelty-free or compassionate living. We tend to treat these things like clubs that one has to jump through hoops in order to join, which can be intimidating and can make people think that making some vegan choices or some cruelty-free choices isn’t an option. But these are lifestyle choices and we all make them in different ways, to different degrees. So just because the all-or-nothing approach works for one person, for another person it may be best to start by just reading some cruelty-free blogs. One person might think, “I’m going to buy only cruelty-free products from now on”. But for another person that will be much harder to stick to than simply saying, “I’m going to start making more conscious choices from now on”. In my case, I needed to (and still need to) buy some non-compassionate products because I have to continue living and I can’t find a cruelty-free solution for everything in one fell swoop. I try to recognize that every time I choose one product that’s cruelty-free I’ve made a little victory. That’s the journey.

Starting small is perfectly fine.

Much to the same point, I struggled with thinking, Where do I start? I was thrilled to realize that some of my existing beauty products were already cruelty-free, but when you begin to realize just how much of what you use has been tested on animals – cleaning solutions, toothpaste, deodorant – it can be really overwhelming. I started with what I knew: cosmetics. I already had a few cruelty-free brands in my drawer so the next time I was out of mascara I bypassed Maybelline and tried one of my approved brands. Eventually I had cruelty-free foundation, powder, eye shadow (palettes make for an efficient transition), eyeliner, mascara, blush, and lipstick – my complete arsenal for everyday makeup.

Cruelty-free is a broad (and confusing) term.

One: if a product is cruelty-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s vegan. Cruelty- free products are generally considered to be products not tested on animals, but they could still include animal byproducts. Two: although the product you buy wasn’t tested on animals, some of the ingredients might have been; cruelty-free companies may sometimes buy their ingredients from non-cruelty-free companies. And three: a cruelty-free brand may be owned by a non-cruelty-free company. This is the case with Urban Decay, which has been cruelty-free for much of its existence; UD is owned by L’Oreal, which is known for having non-compassionate practices. L’Oreal also recently bought one of my favorite cruelty-free brands, NYX, so if I choose to continue buying NYX (which, to my understanding, will continue to be cruelty-free) I’ll indirectly be supporting a non-cruelty-free parent company. Complex, huh? But in my opinion, these are all left to the consumer’s prerogative (And it makes you no less compassionate! You’re a wonderfully kind person because you’re trying to be. The bunnies appreciate you.)

You can’t always trust logos and labels (which really sucks).

Sadly, some brands claim that they don’t test on animals when that isn’t necessarily true. Additionally, some brands are cruelty-free but for some reason don’t advertise their awesomeness. It’s really complex, but luckily the great army of bloggers out there work hard to get the facts. I’ve also heard consistently that the best way to find out if a product is really not tested on animals is to verify its place on either the Leaping Bunny list or the PETA list of approved brands. Sometimes that’s really hard, at least for me, because one can’t memorize such extensive lists (yay that they’re extensive!). The good news is that both PETA and Leaping Bunny have apps to help you out.

Cruelty-free on a budget is actually possible.

And it’s really not that hard (especially if you’re patient). You can find cruelty-free products right in the drugstore (Wet ‘n’ Wild, e.l.f., Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees, Yes to Carrots). I’ve also found that TJ Maxx can be great for getting cruelty-free brands on a budget, like Julep nail polish, Deep Steep bath products (love!), hair spray, even clothing and accessories.

Bonus point: it’s good for the soul.

There’s no scientific basis for the argument that cruelty-free products will actually improve your skin and make your life better simply by being cruelty-free, but there’s a pretty good chance you’ll glow a bit more and feel a little more blissed out in general knowing that you’ve done something good. As I was trying to find a good cruelty-free foundation I got really frustrated with my uneven skin tone and exposed freckles, but after a while I realized that what I was doing was much more beautiful than trying to hide the natural me. (Of course, I did eventually find a full-coverage option so now my vanity has been satisfied, but it was still a great learning experience.)

As promised, here are some of the cruelty-free/natural beauty blogs I’ve been following:
Humanely Chic
Logical Harmony
My Beauty Bunny
Ecoholic Beauty
Beauty by Britanie

What June looked like on my Audrey calendar (with a bit of poetry for good measure).

Our lilac bush bloomed quite madly this year. It looked and smelled lovely.

Dreams come true: I met Neil Gaiman! (Read about it here.)

My family and I walked in the Great Strides charity walk to raise funds and awareness for the fight against cystic fibrosis (you can read about that here).

Summer means roses, and these were looking like something straight out of Wonderland.

I spent a rainy Friday in NYC for dinner in Time’s Square and Once on Broadway! It was a phenomenal show, and we went onstage for the pre-show where audience members can sip drinks and watch some of the musician-actors perform. I never thought I’d do something like that!

My mom’s coworker let me borrow – and then keep! – this incredible bit of history: it’s an issue of The Woman’s Magazine out of Brattleboro, VT dated January, 1886. Amazing!

I went to the last (sadly) annual book sale put on by the Poughkeepsie Public Library. They’ll be opening their own space year-long to sell books donated and out of circulation. It’s the biggest book sale you ever did see, and these were my spoils (including, accidentally, the same Maeve Binchy book twice…oops!).

Also at the book sale, I got my hands on a recording of the original cast of My Fair Lady. (This was before the film, and incidentally before Julie Andrews was Hollywood famous.)

Doubleday puts on week-long photo challenges (#photoadoubleday) and holds contests on Instagram as part of the marketing for various books. I took part in their June edition of #photoadoubleday and won a chic beach bag full of summer goodies – including a fabulously enormous hat and two of the publisher’s summer fiction titles.

“What we have here is a dreamer. Someone out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she’d fly.”

I read The Virgin Suicides, which was incredible, and also Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur, The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, and The Marriage Pact by Linda Lael Miller.

Also borrowed from my mom’s coworker was this fascinating edition of Poe’s The Raven and The Bells from the 1920s, complete with a drawing of Poe’s Brooklyn home and a title page done in gold ink. It smells strongly of perfume and a tiny bit of cigarette smoke so I imagine it belonged to some fancy, charming intellectual lady who attended lots of parties worthy of Jay Gatsby.

I decided to switch up my formatting for Through a Lens this month because I’m really fond of simplicity right now – plus, more room for captions and bigger photos. All the better to admire the fact that I met Neil Gaiman. I promise I’ll stop soon (ish). Happy July, lovelies!

Over the weekend my family and I took part in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides charity walk (the Poughkeepsie branch) to raise funds and awareness for the fight against cystic fibrosis. Friends connected on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook may have heard about it. If you saw one of my postings through there you will know that my sister battles a certain form of the disease (which form is something she’s working hard to determine) so this was a cause near and dear to our family. (I wrote about that in a little more detail over here.) My aunt Jennifer, owner of Cartier’s Salon (you’ll know her from the Silhouette of a Woman fashion shows on here), walked with us and connected us with a wonderful family whose team we joined in support of a young man, a CF patient, named Ciaran; the team name was, perfectly, Ciaran’s Fighting Irish. Our team raised over $1,600 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the collective event raised more than $90,000 for the cause. It was a beautiful day for the walk and it was a great opportunity to meet some incredibly kind, motivated, and truly inspiring people, as well as to soak up lots of helpful information, words of experience, and a powerful feeling of support in the face of this devastating and fatal disease.

Great Strides is one of four different active events CFF puts on to raise money in an attempt to find a cure. The others are Cycle for Life, CF Climb, and, for the hardcore, XTreme Hike. You can search any of the events, including Great Strides, to see if there’s a walk or climb or bike-ride or a hike of the extreme variety happening near you, and I can’t recommend enough getting involved with this fantastic organization. I think CF isn’t exactly a household name and it really ought to be; I myself didn’t really know what it was until my sister’s intense respiratory troubles were recently attributed by specialists to the genetic mutation she was born with. She’s been so brave in the face of this challenge and it was really a special opportunity for me and the rest of our family to take part in this with her and help support – as well as getting educated in – this very important cause!